Beyond the Blackboard (2011)Thursday, March 22, 2012
Seeing the little iconic golden crown emblem has sort of become an autograph for quality programming. It is the sign of Hallmark branded products and while, most people may think of a meaningful greeting card when it comes to that name, what you are missing out on are some truly moving productions.
Ever since she can remember Stacey has aspired to be a teacher. It was her dream. She always did well in school to the point of it becoming a haven from a home-life that was anything but happy. Years later, her decisions led to her quitting high school and struggling to finish her education. Eight years later at twenty-four, Stacey (Emily VanCamp) is a mother and married to her high school sweetheart, Greg (Steve Talley). Juggling a personal life, she has finally achieved her degree and now wants a teaching position with the New Mexico public school district. Even though she is hired, she is given a job teaching the homeless children that no one else cares about. Excited about her dream being realized, Stacey didn’t expect what she got. Being shoved off a on “shelter school,” the directions she was given to her new employment seem to lead to nowhere leaving Stacy overwhelmed and maybe even a bit prejudiced towards the people when she arrives to find that the shelter director has no time for her, the temporary she is replacing merely recommends playing movies and the parents do not take an active interest in their children’s education. The room she is given as a classroom has none of the proper amenities, but is more a rat-infested trap than anything, and her repeated calls to the powers that be go unanswered.
Determined to make things work, Stacey uses some of her long-suffering gumption as she continues to devote much of her time to her class of twenty hurting but clever students. Pouring her own money and time into resources, Stacey eventually makes it into something resembling a school room - a better learning environment but in order to make it complete she must get the superintendent (Treat Williams) to take notice of the work she is doing and the progress “her kids” have made.
Anytime there is a Hallmark Hall of Fame tele-film airing on TV, my family sits down together and anxiously anticipates something superior from such a signature production line, knowing their past (nearly) always stellar reputation. Luckily, unlike the Hallmark Channel programming these air on a station available at my house. Being a true story always lends credence to an account that will not only be well-rounded but emotional. A script or in this case, a teleplay based on actual events has a lot to live up to, and more potential to see that realized, but also a responsibility to display the humility and “authentic” feeling to the story. Most of the programming that comes from Hallmark is family acceptable, but since this is more adult in its subject matter, there are a few thematic elements.
Everyone in the cast is phenomenal. The adults were all wonderful, including Emily, Treat and Steve (and even Nicki Aycox from the short-lived TV show Dark Blue co-stars in a heart-breaking performance), but it really is the kids who steal the show, sort of by default, because they are so cute. Each and every one of the kids were impressive and everyone worked together so well; the genuine sentiment is always evident. The palpable emotional connection and scenes are touching – and I do not normally have much of an emotional (shedding tears) reaction to a movie unless something about it seems special. This is just that. Christianity isn’t referenced, but you almost feel like there are parallels to it, mainly in the form of a selfless servant. Stacey was cautions and uncomfortable in her surroundings, like many of us would be but the plight of the children – and their families was what tugged at her and they took up a big place in her generous heart. Something that comes across on-screen in ways we’ve come to expect from such programs. A heartbreaking, tender story demonstrating some of the small ways a person can make a big difference in other’s lives, Beyond the Blackboard – also known as Let them Shine – is a wonderful, inspirational (true) story that teaches a form of mutual respect and I’d recommend anyone try to get a copy of it.
(Rated TVPG: Many of the children come from broken homes and relate stories. Fathers and mothers are in prison; one mother locked her children in the basement. Rebellious to a fault, a pre-teen smokes as do many of the parents; one parent gets drunk and kicked out of the shelter. In the past, a sixteen-year-old became pregnant.)